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Know the Pros and Cons of Digital and Paper Tax Returns

When you file your taxes, you have two options for submitting your return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): electronically or by mail.

Both methods of filing have their advantages and disadvantages.  E-filing is safe, faster, and generally more convenient than paper filing, but filing by mail can be cheaper, although it takes the IRS longer to process refunds.

The Advantages of E-Filing

A scant number of tax professionals–five of them, according to the IRS–took advantage of this new technology at the moment.  The new filing method eventually caught on however and, as of 2018, roughly 90% of taxpayers e-filed their returns.

Immediate Confirmation

The biggest advantage of electronic filing is that you’ll receive almost immediate confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return.

If the IRS finds errors in your return, you’ll be given a rejection notice (usually within 24-48 hours), and the notice will typically indicate what triggered the action and what you can do to fix your tax return.

Safety

E-filing is more secure than paper filing, according to the IRS, since the return, with all your sensitive information, is transmitted directly to the IRS computer system.

Your refund is very likely to be processed faster because e-filing means the IRS does not need to sort or transcribe your tax return in its service center.

Less Human Error


There’s a lower chance that the IRS will make a error when calculating your return because IRS employees do not need to manually enter your return line-by-line into its own system.

You Don’t Have to Use a Tax Prep Program

You don’t have to use an expensive tax preparation program to e-file your taxes–if you are tax savvy, have a very simple situation, and are willing to learn, you can fill tax forms in directly using IRS free fillable forms.  Be aware that you need to be comfortable completing basic tax forms to use the service as no guidance is provided.  And if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $72,000, you might be better off using one of the IRS’ many free-file affiliates.

E-filing comes with some potential headaches, too.

Fees

While there are tax prep tools that are free, many of the top tax prep companies like TurboTax, TaxSlayer, and H&R Block charge fees for tax returns that go beyond a basic filing.  Fees can exceed $100, depending on which sort of features you want.

Vulnerable to Outages

Glitches are always possible when you’re using the net.  In 2020, TurboTax’s website experienced at least seven outages between April 15 and April 17.  Also, your online service provider may face outages that could hamper your filing attempt.

Doesn’t Allow for Certain Filing Situations

Though e-filing supports most tax situations, there are certain scenarios it doesn’t support.  By way of example, you can’t file a return for somebody who passed away, you can’t attach images or PDFs to your return, nor can you record before the IRS opens e-filing for the year.

Benefits of Paper Filing

Filing a paper return can be very helpful in some specific scenarios that e-filing can’t accommodate.

You’ve Got a Rare Filing Situation

E-filing can only do so much. By way of example, if you will need to prepare a tax return for somebody who passed away, you must file a paper return.  Also, paper filing lets you print and submit pictures or PDFs to supplement your own tax return.

You Want to Build Your Tax Expertise

Several online tax prep tools automate the filing process by asking you questions and using your answers to fill out forms without ever telling you which forms it is filing for your benefit.

If you want to know about, and better review, the details of your tax return, including all forms related to your tax situation, filing a paper return provides the transparency that you crave. You may fill out every form line-by-line and see firsthand all the calculations and considerations your refund requires.

Disadvantages of Paper Filing

There are several drawbacks to paper filing which make the procedure riskier and more taxing than e-filing.

Increases Odds of Errors

Data transcribers at the IRS must manually input taxpayer information for every paper return they get.  As a result of this, it could result in errors that you may need to fix via an amended return.

For filers who try paper filing after years of electronic filing, collecting all of the forms necessary for things like student loan interest, mortgage interest, capital gains, and business deductions can be intimidating, and it could lead to missing forms or errors.

You Will Need to Remember to Sign the Return

Veteran paper filers realize that you have to manually sign the paper return you submit, or the IRS won’t accept it.  Newbie paper filers often forget this fact, leading to even longer delays than what you’d normally expect with a paper return.

You can do a few things to streamline your return entry when you file :

  1. Make sure that your name and Social Security number are on every page, both front and back. 
  2. This is where the IRS will send any notices, so it is important that you don’t make a mistake.

  3. Mail your return to the right IRS service center, since the address can change based on which state you are in, and whether you’re including payment with your return.  The IRS provides a state-by-state list online so you can find the correct address.

  4. Get an automatic extension if you are mailing your return close to the official filing deadline of April 15, 2021.  Bear in mind that you should make a payment with your extension if you think you’ll owe anything.  Otherwise, you might be subject to penalties and interest.

The IRS provides a list of acceptable filing options on its own website, Including the following options:

  1.             Hire a tax professional to prepare your own return. 
  2. Use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, if you are eligible. There are particular requirements for e-filing or paper filing should you use one of these programs.

In the unlikely event your identity is stolen and the thief files a tax return with your data, your e-filed return will be rejected by the IRS as a copy.  You have to file a paper tax return in this case and mail it in with Form 14039, the”Identity Theft Affidavit,” notifying the IRS of this matter.

Key Takeaways

    1. E-filing is fast and provides several free options
    2. Internet or site outages can cause frustrating delays for e-filers. 
    3. Paper filing requires more time than e-filing and can be overwhelming. 
    4. Alternatives to filing taxes in your include hiring a tax professional or engaging in filing aid programs.